Shamrock Series: Notre Dame-Army Pre-Game Mass

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City
November 20, 2010

Gospel: Luke 20: 27-40

In that passage some of the Sadducees presented Jesus with a conundrum about a woman who had seven husbands: “Who,” they asked him, “would be her husband in the afterlife in heaven?” Jesus doesn’t give an answer, but tells them they don’t understand and can’t fully understand. They are trying to project their life here on earth to a life after this one. But their reasoning is not valid, for the life in heaven is a different kind of life. He is unable to tell them in detail just what kind of life that will be, for that exceeds our ability to understand. But he assures them that it will be a life in glory.

For so many questions we have, I think the answers—such as they are—are sort of this kind: not specific answers, not wholly satisfying answers, but a call to trust in God. In recent weeks at Notre Dame there have been a lot of such questions with the death of Declan Sullivan that we all continue to mourn. So many have asked, “Why did he die?” “How could God allow this?” “How do we make sense of it?” “Could this happen to me or to someone I love?”

When we hear those questions, there’s a great temptation to give simple reassuring answers. But often they really don’t satisfy us, and sometimes they don’t have the ring of truth. So much of life is simply living with those questions. Our faith guides us, but our faith does not give us a fully satisfying answer to every question.

It certainly does contain some answers. Central among them is that God created the world out of love, that he sent Jesus Christ because he loved that world, to free it from sin, that he calls us to follow him and we are called to trust in him. And those teachings give us a way of interpreting the world, but don’t provide an answer to every question.

I think sometimes faith is portrayed to us as sort of a book of answers. If we have a question, we can just look it up in the book. But really, that’s not quite right. For faith is perhaps more like trust. If we think of the people we trust most deeply in our life, whether it’s a parent, a spouse, a friend, even a physician we often don’t get all the answers. But our trust in them can guide us and help us to move forward.

And so it is with faith. We may not have all of the answers. But we trust in a God that loves us, that walked with us in Jesus, that died with us on the cross and that rose again. Trust like that can pervade everything you do. It can pervade your whole life. It can help you move forward. It can give you guidance for life even while you don’t have all the answers.

In a lot of ways, that’s really the life of faith. That’s really the life of faith to live and trust in God’s love even when we don’t have every answer. That’s what draws us together and that’s what animates Notre Dame and has done so for many, many decades.

You know we are here for a football game that has a tremendous history. Among its history are some of the greatest football games in all of college sports. The presence of Notre Dame in New York playing Army has always been an event not just a game for Notre Dame Alumni, students and faculty but for many, many more who have adopted Notre Dame. In 1934 a newspaper writer wrote this about the game. He said: “Tomorrow is the annual gathering of that amazing clan of self-appointed Notre Dame Alumni who will whoop and rage and rant and roar through our town from sun up until long after sun down to honor a school to which they never went. There are no self-appointed Colgate or Tulane or Purdue alumni when those teams come to our town but there is some sweet magic about the name of Notre Dame that annually draws the damndest rabble out of its warrens.”

What is it about Notre Dame that in this city and many others draws so much devotion from so many people? There are other great universities, but Notre Dame does seem to have that special magic. I would suggest it does have something to do with faith. People came to these shores as immigrants and they faced tremendous obstacles. There was every reason to be discouraged. But what brought them together as a community, what helped them face those obstacles, what drew them to the name of Notre Dame, was faith. They shared a faith with Notre Dame. So while they cheered for a football team, their devotion went deeper. It went to that faith, that trust that is at the heart of our life as Catholics and Christians and draws us together into a community and helps us face life’s greatest obstacles and greatest tragedies even when we do not have all the answers. That’s the tradition of Notre Dame. That’s why we’re here at Mass today. That’s what we celebrate at Notre Dame.

As we go on today and beyond, let us pray that we all can be worthy of those who have gone before us, who shared that faith, who celebrated the name of Notre Dame, who found in it strength to confront adversity, who found in it a reason to come together as a community – not simply around a football team but around so much more. That’s the spirit of Notre Dame. It’s that spirit that fills this church. It’s that spirit we celebrate.

I thank all of you for being here. Let us pray that in our lives as a community and in our lives individually we can show that faith and live that faith, that trust in God’s love that can get us through the challenges of life even when it doesn’t give us all the answers. Let us pray that God will deepen that faith in our hearts. May God, through Our Lady, bless you all.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame